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Byline: Kristi Ellis
Wal-Mart Stands to Gain in Health Care Debate
In the high stakes political game over health care reform, the centerpiece of President Obama's domestic agenda, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. stands to gain considerable ground in its public image and labor relations.
The country's largest retailer has long been cast as antiworker after a series of negative incidents and a vigorous effort against unionizing its stores, but in recent times has improved its stance through better employee benefits. Now, Wal-Mart has inserted itself into a game-changing debate of historical proportions that promises to burnish its reputation and establish the company as a model corporate citizen in the eyes of workers and consumers.
At the same time, business groups, including the retail industry's major lobbying group, the National Retail Federation, find themselves on the other side of public sentiment by opposing several of the health care proposals, including an employer mandate. Such a stance in this economic climate is loaded with public relations headaches.
The retail industry employs 24 million people, 50 to 60 percent of whom are eligible for health care benefits, according to industry figures. That means 10 million to 12 million retail employees, many of them working part-time, are not eligible for employers' health coverage.
A new USA Today/Gallup poll out Tuesday said 56 percent of Americans favor a health care reform bill, 33 percent oppose it and 12 percent do not feel strongly either way. To finance the bill, 61 percent believe employers who do not provide insurance should pay a fee.
Also on Tuesday, House lawmakers unveiled their comprehensive health care reform legislation. It includes an employer mandate that gives employers the option of providing health insurance …